In Lebanon there is one gunshot a year that isn’t part of a scene of routine violence: The opening sound of the Beirut International Marathon. In a moving talk, marathon founder May El-Khalil explains why she believed a 26.2-mile running event could bring together a country divided for decades by politics and religion, even if for one day a year.
Why you should listen to her:
The beautiful city of Beirut, Lebanon, has seen its share of tragedy, as a seat of Lebanon's long-running civil war (1975-1990) and the Israeli-Lebanese conflict that came to a head in 2006. But in 2003, May El-Khalil, a local sports official, decided: It's time to start a marathon, open to all, as an antidote to sectarianism. And despite ongoing political and security pressure, the Beirut Marathon, now entering its 11th year, has become not only the largest running event in the Middle East but a powerful force for peace.
El-Khalil was inspired to start the marathon after a personal tragedy: a near-fatal running accident. Doctors told her she would never run again. She was hospitalized for two years and had to undergo a long series of surgeries. But the resolve from this personal struggle created an event that, each year, draws runners and fans from opposing political and religious communities in a symbolic act of peace. Case in point: In 2012, on a rainy and windy November day, more than 33,000 runners turned out. Other countries around the region are now thinking of replicating this model.